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Abraham Lincoln's 

Zachary Taylor 

Excerpts from newspapers and other 


From the files of the 
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection 

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Sat., June 15, 1891 


— The crypt of Zachary Tay- 
lor will be opened Monday to 
check out an author's theory 
that the 12th U.S. president 
was poisoned. 

cause of 
death was 
listed as 
teritis fol- 
lowing his 
sudden ill- 
ness and 
death al- 
most 141 

Taylor > e <^°- 

U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs gave approval yester- 
day for Jefferson County Cor- 
oner Richard Greathouse to 
open the crypt in the Zachary 
Taylor National Cemetery 
that contains the remains of 
Taylor and his wife, 

Clara Rising of Holder, 
Fla., who is writing a book 
about Taylor, planned to be 
present when Greathouse 
removes a sample of Taylor's 
remains for analysis. 

Dr. William Maples, a 
forensic anthropologist at the 
University of Florida in Gain- 
esville who specializes in skel- 
etal remains, also is expected 
to be on hand. He believes 
Taylor's symptoms were con- 
sistent with arsenic poisoning. 

If Taylor's death turns out 
to be a homicide, he would 
displace Abraham Lincoln, 
the nation's 16th president, as 
the first American president 
known to be assassinated. 

But Dr. Elbert B. Smith, 
professor emeritus of the Uni- 
versity of Maryland Depart- 
ment of History, said he'd be 
"shocked and astounded" if 
there was evidence that Tay- 
lor was poisoned. 

Taylor died of gastroen- 
teritis, which became acute 
because of malpractice by his 
physicians, Smith said. 

The author of the recent 
book, "The Presidencies of 
Zachary Taylor and Millard 
Fillmore," Smith said there 
would have been no motive or 
opportunity to kill Taylor. 

Rising said other political 
leaders wanted to get rid of 
Taylor because he opposed 
extending slavery into lands 
the United States acquired 
after the Mexican War. 

"I truly believe that if this 
man had lived, he may have 
been able to prevent the Civil 
War," Rising said. 



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1850 death 

The crypt of Zachary Taylor 
will be opened Monday to test 
an author's theory that the 
12th president was assassin- 
ated with poisoned fruit 
141 years ago because of his 
opposition to the spread of 
slavery. The U.S. Department 
of Veterans Affairs granted 
approval Friday for a coroner 
to open the crypt in the 
Zachary Taylor National Cem- 
etery in Louisville, Ky., to see 
whether there's any trace of 
poison by analyzing a piece of 
hair, fingernail or bone. At the 
coroner's side will be author 
Clara Rising. 

Back to the Future, again. 


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Turned Over in His Grave 


When William Shakespeare was entombed 375 
years ago, a bit of doggerel •** the playwright's 
work, but not up to his usual standard — was 
inscribed on the stone. "Good friend for Jesus' sake 
forbear / To dig the dust enclosed here. / Blest be 
the man that spares these stones, / And curst be he 
that moves my bones." So far, despite countless 
pleas from people with a point to prove, nobody has. 

President Zachary Taylor should have been so 

President Taylor died on July 9, 1850, after 
overexerting himself at the cornerstone-laying of 
the Washington Monument, overeating iced cher- 
ries and ice milk and suffering the "cures" of 
several doctors. That, at least, is the official story 
and the one believed by most historians. But not by 
Clara Rising, a former humanities professor at the 
University of Florida. 

Ms. Rising, who is working on a book about 
Taylor, believes America's 12th President was the 
first to be assassinated. Having been told by a 
pathologist that Taylor's symptoms were similar to 
those of arsenic poisoning, Ms. Rising persuaded" 
the county coroner, Dr. Richard Greathouse, to 

issue an exhumation order. The Department of 
Veterans Affairs, which runs the Kentucky ceme- 
tery where Taylor is buried, quickly complied. 

That's all it took for a sadly crumpled coffin, 
shrouded in a badly folded flag, to be removed from 
the crypt in which it was placed 141 years ago. If 
arsenic is indeed present, it could be from the 
doctors' concoctions or embalming fluid. If there 
was a crime, the clues are long since lost. Never 
mind. Dr. Greathouse is "thrilled" by his participa- 
tion, and Ms. Rising speaks of solving what she says 
could become one of the strangest murder myster- 
ies in American history. 

Sometimes there are good reasons for tamper- 
ing with a grave. Serious historical evidence estab- 
lishing the possibility that President Taylor was 
assassinated would be one. But Ms. Rising has 
produced no such evidence, only a hypothesis for 
which she found an eager collaborator. 

Perhaps there are secrets to be found in what 
was left of President Taylor, who was returned to 
his crypt on the evening after his exhumation. All 
that's been revealed so far, however, is a cavalier 
contempt for the dead. 




Grave Confounded 

After Bing Crosby died his son 
Gary published a book saying his dad 
had been a truly terrible father. This 
prompted Bob Hope to observe, "It's 
not even safe to die anymore." 

Zachary Taylor, former President 
of the United States, dead since 1850, 
might have said, "Bob never spoke a 
truer line," had he been capable of 
issuing a press release when the 
knock came at his mausoleum door 
the other day. He was about to be 
hauled out for further study. Someone 
writing a book suspected he may 
have been poisoned, so an obliging 

Is nobody safe 
from science? 

coroner had agreed to subject him to 
the indignities modern science is 
uniquely qualified to inflict. 

This follows by only a few months a 
decision to let scientists have a crack 
at cloning some Abraham Lincoln 
cells so they can learn whether the 
Great Emancipator suffered from a 
disease nobody even knew about in 
Lincoln's time: something that has to 
do with making people tall, gangling 
and loose-limbed. 

It's tempting to justify this by tell- 
ing the scientists, "Find out what 
disease Lincoln had and send some to 
all our Presidents." Alas, however, 
knowing science's mad-doctorish 
passion to make the 150-year-old hu- 
man a commonplace, we can be sure 
that the knowledge would not be used 
to improve Presidents but to wipe out 
a potentially invaluable disease. 

Is nobody safe from a prying sci- 
ence driven by righteous curiosity? 
One of the few consolations of the 
grave used to be that you could take 
your secrets there with the certainty 
that they would be safe from busy- 
bodies. Its power to make secrecy 
eternal helped people keep life in per- 

One stood beside the grave while 
clergy uttered the closing words, 
and one of the thoughts that ran 
through your mind was: "Now I'll 
never know ..." 

After awhile it seemed not so im- 
portant that you could never know, 
and as time did its work you realized 
that one of life's conditions was that 
/ou would never be allowed to know 
is much as you wanted to know. Life 
urrounded us with mysteries, which 

could be maddening unless you re- 
laxed and enjoyed the way they en- 
riched life's texture. 

Solve a mystery, it becomes a bore. 
As Edmund Wilson asked of Agatha 
Christie's whodunnit: "Who Cares 
Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Some 
mysteries enchant us so intensely 
that we reject any evidence that 
would deprive us of the pleasure of 
their company. A hundred years from 
now Americans will still be arguing 
whether Lee Harvey Oswald did it all 
by himself, or at all. 

The impulse to take the fun out of 
life by solving all the mysteries is as 
old as Adam. What's new is the scien- 
tific skill we can now apply to the job. 
As it increases, the wretched dead 
will have more and more reason to lie 
uneasy in their graves awaiting the 
dreadful knock which signals that the 
lab boys have arrived. 

"Aha, my good man, we have come 
for your secrets. No use making a 
fuss about it. And don't think you can 
hold anything back. Nowadays we 
have ways of making you talk." 

Disturbing dead Presidents to sat- 
isfy modern curiosity is barbaric 
enough now when inquisitive science 
can examine them only for problems 
like arsenic and loose-limb disease. 
Imagine the complications when sci- 
ence perfects methods to solve more 
complex mysteries. 

In recent years, for instance, some 
people have insisted that Lincoln, de- 
spite the superficial evidence (the 
Civil War, the Emancipation Procla- 
mation, etc.) was, in fact, actually a 

At present scientists cloning Lin- 
coln's cells may be able to find dis- 
eases he didn't know he had. They 
will assure you, however, that they 
will never be able to clone a complete 
Lincoln which can be strapped to a lie 
detector and examined for inner feel- 
ings of bigotry. 

They always laugh and call such 
suggestions "Buck Rogers stuff." 
Then they do it all: space stations, 
spliced genes in pig blood, the full 
Buck Rogers/Doctor Huer bonanza. 
Poor old Abe. I can see him already 
cloned, strapped to the machine, Pen- 
tagon security experts watching the 
needles jump. 

"Have you been cloned, Mr. Lin- 
"I have indeed, gentlemen." 
"All right; Lincoln. Give it to us 
straight from the shoulder: You're a 
racist, aren't you?" 

In the immortal words of Fats Wal- 
ler, "Mercy!" D 


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Well, there's no arsenic in Zachary Taylor's bones, but it's the 150-year-old bottle 
of Kentucky bourbon we found in his casket that we'd like to keep secret. 

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The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette 

Tuesday, June 25, 1991 5A 

Taylor's death more than a footnote to history 


Was Zachary Taylor murdered? Did a 
dastardly assassin poison him with arsenic- 
laden fruit, thereby causing his death 
July 9, 1850? 

Apparently Dr. William Maples, a foren- 
sic anthropologist, believes this might be 
the case. He received permission to remove 
samples of Taylor's remains for an analysis 
in an attempt to validate this claim. 

Newspaper reports have made much of 
the fact that history books would have to 
be rewritten should Taylor's death be con- 
firmed a homocide because he, and not our 
16th president, Abraham Lincoln, would 
then be the first chief executive 

However, while this bit of trivia would 
need correcting, Taylor's death in 1850 had 
a much greater impact on the history of the 
United States. 

Showdown on slavery 

In late 1849 and 1850, a controversy 
erupted over the new territories obtained 
from Mexico as a result of the Mexican 
War — the so-called Mexican Cession. This 
included present-day California, Nevada, 
Utah. Arizona, New Mexico and parts of 
Colorado and Wyoming. 

Southerners were upset because Califor- 
nia had adopted. late in 1849, a constitution 
as a free state and sought admission into 
the union. This threatened the balance in 
the Senate between the free and slave 
states. Although a southerner by birth 
(from Virginia) and the owner of more 
than 100 slaves. President Taylor strongly 
supported California's admission. However, 
Congress did not act. 

But other problems also existed. Fearing 
New Mexico would follow California's 
example, Texas, a slave state, claimed a 
huge area that was about half of New 
Mexico. Tensions grew, and it appeared 
as if Texas might use force to make its 

Concerns also were heard regarding the 
disposition of the rest of the Mexican Ces- 
sion. Would it be free or slave? 

To resolve these issues, the elder states- 
men of that day produced a series of bills. 
Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Stephen 
Douglas were primarily responsible for this 
work, which came to be known collectively 
as the Compromise of 1850. Actually five 
separate bills, these compromise measures 
provided for the following: 

California was to become a free state. 

The rest of the Mexican Cession was 
formed into the territories of New Mexico 
and Utah without restriction as to slavery 
— popular sovereignty would prevail. 

The territory in dispute between Texas 
and New Mexico was given to the latter, 
and Texas was paid J10 million in 

The slave trade (but not slavery) was 
abolished in Washington, D.C. 

And a more stringent fugutive slave law 
was to be enacted. 

Zachary Taylor accepted the California 
provision but rejected those aspects of the 
compromise favorable to the South. 

In the meantime (June 3-12, 1850) a 
group of dissatisfied southerners from nine 
states met at Nashville, Tenn. — The Nash- 
ville Convention — "to devise and adopt 
some mode of resistance" to northern 
aggressions. Meeting prior to the resolution 
of the issues with the Compromise of 1850, 

they offered solutions designed to protect 
their interests. But rumbles of discontent 
and disquieting talk of secession were also 

Argument academic 

With the death of Zachary Taylor July 9, 
1850, the situation changed drastically. 
(Taylor had attended outdoor festivities at 
the Washington Monument July 4, where 
he sat through two hours of speeches 
under a blazing sun. Reiurning to the White 


House, he wolfed down some cherries and 
a pitcher of cold milk. He developed what 
the doctors diagnosed as cholera morbus, a 
gastrointestinal upset, from which he never 

Taylor's successor, Millard Fillmore, had 
presided over the great Senate debate in his 
role as vice president. He informed Taylor 
that in case of a deadlock, he was pre- 
pared to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor 
of the five bills. This was not because of 
hostility to the administration, Fillmore 
explained, but because he believed it was in 

the nation's best interest. So, with Fill- 
more now president, passage of the Com- 
promise of 1850 became a foregone 

There is little doubt Taylor would have 
vetoed the compromise had he lived. This 
would have ied to increased sectional ten- 
sion and probably war. In fact, no less a 
contemporary figure than Daniel Webster 
declared he was convinced that Taylor's 
death prevented the outbreak of war in 

South might have won 

Suppose Taylor had lived. What would 
have been the consequence of a violent 
showdown in 1850? The South would have 
benefited to an appreciable degree. Time 
was on the side of the North. With every 
passing decade, the North gained in popula- 
tion and wealth — crops, factories, foun- 
dries, ships and railroads. 

Delay also added to the moral strength 
of the North — to its will to fight for the 

So the decade of the 1850s gave the 
North time to accumulate the physical and 
moral strength that gave it the edge when 
the war finally erupted. As historian 
Thomas A. Bailey has noted: "Thus the 
Compromise of 1850, from one point of 
view, won the Civil War for the union." 

And whether he was assassinated or 
died because of his own lack of good judg- 
ment, this is the significance of Zachary 
Taylor's death in 1850. 

Martin D. Tullai is chairman of the history 
department at St. Paul's School in Brook- 
landville, Md. 


Posthumous probe proceeds 

Tests to illuminate or eliminate president's poisoning 

Applying high technology to unlock 
a mystery from the 19th century, 
scientists bombarded President 
Zachary Taylor's remains with neu- 
trons and analyzed them with com- 
puters to learn whether he was 

Jefferson County Coroner 
Richard Greathouse and George 
Nichols, Kentucky medical exam- 
iner, were scheduled to announce 
their findings today. 

Remains of the 12th president, 
including hair, bone scrapings and 
fingernails, were analyzed for arse- 
nic in Louisville, Ky. and at the 
nation's largest research reactor in 
Oak Ridge, Tenn., to test an 
author's theory about Taylor's 

Clara Rising, who has 
researched a book on Taylor, has 
theorized he was poisoned for 


opposing the 
spread of slav- 
ery into the 

Among those 
she has pro- 
posed as sus- 
pects are Sen. 
Henry Clay of 
Kentucky and 
Millard Fill- 
more, who as 
vice president 

succeeded Taylor. 

Taylor fell ill after attending the 
July 4, 1850, dedication of the 
Washington Monument and died a 
few days later of what were 
thought to be natural causes. Gas- 
troenteritis was listed as the cause 
of death. 

Rising and others have said Tay- 
lor's symptoms resembled those of 
arsenic poisoning. They speculated 

that the 65-year-old Taylor was 
poisoned by arsenic put in fruit 
he ate. 

Rising agreed to pay the $1,200 
for an exhumation, and on June 17 
Taylor's crypt in Louisville was 
opened and samples were taken. 

The samples were dissolved in 
acid and put through other pro- 
cesses so they could be subjected to 
a spectrograph, a device to separate 
light given off by a substance into a 
pattern of colors. No two materials 
have the same spectrum. 

In another test, samples were 
loaded into tiny containers and 
sent through the Oak Ridge 
National Laboratory's 85-megawatt 
High Flux Isotope Reactor. 

There, the samples were bom- 
barded with neutrons for one 
minute. Later, the gamma rays 
given off by sample will be ana- 
lyzed by computer. 

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VLS/LETTERS Thursday, july 4, mi 

Scandal and the Heat Did Zachary Taylor In 

To the Editor: 

President Zachary Taylor did not 
die of natural causes as you report 
June 27. As Samuel Eliot Morison 
puts it in his "Oxford History of the 
American People," he died of a "com- 
bination of official scandals, Wash- 
ington heat and doctors." 

After learning of a scandal in which 
his Secretary of War made a fortune, 
"Old Rough and Ready" was in a 
depressed state on the Fourth of July 
1850, when he was subjected to two 
hours of oratory in the hot Washing- 
ton sun. He attempted to cool off by 
consuming huge amounts of cucum- 
bers and iced milk. In the unhealthy 
climate of Washington, with its open 
sewers and flies, Taylor came down 
with cholera morbus, or acute gastro- 
enteritis as it is now called. 

Morison believed that Taylor 
"would probably have recovered if 
left alone." Fat chance for a Presi- 
dent. The capital physician, assisted 
by a Baltimore quack, performed 
what some might consider an assassi- 
nation. As Morison writes, they 
"drugged him with ipecac, calomel, 
opium and quinine (at 40 grains a 
whack), and bled and blistered him 
too. On July 9 he gave up the ghost." 
Who wouldn't? Jim Sampas 

New York, June 27, 1991 

Foul Play Suspected 

To the Editor: 

Re "President Zachary Taylor's 
Body to be Tested for Signs of Ar- 
senic" (front page, June 15). 

In August 1871, Charles Francis 
Hall, an American Arctic explorer, 
pushed his vessel Polaris into what he 
called the Lincoln Sea for a farthest- 
north record. In the winter that fol- 
lowed, Hall died suddenly; many of 
his crew were disaffected and muti- 
nous, and poisoning seemed likely. 

Nearly a century later, Chauncey 

Loomis, Hall's biographer, and a pa- 
thologist exhumed Hall's body from 
its Arctic grave and took tissue sam- 
ples to the United States for analysis. 
They proved heavily contaminated 
with arsenic, though Hall's remains, 
unlike President Taylor's, had not 
been embalmed and contaminated 
with undertaker's arsenic. 

However, since arsenic was a sta- 
ple of the Victorian pharmacopeia, 
traces of it detected in a 19th-century 
corpse do not, alas, necessarily indi- 
cate foul play. In both Hall's and the 
President's cases, arsenic dosage 
may well have been self-adminis- 
tered. John Maxtone-Graham 
New York, June 15, 1991 

Buchanan's Complaint 

To the Editor: 

Tests of the White House drinking 
water to determine the .cause of the 
autoimmune disorders afflicting 

President and Mrs. Bush, as well as 
their dog Millie, are not a first in 
United States history. Such a problem 
occurred before, killing the nephew of 

one of President Bush's predecessors -Z 
and nearly claiming the chief execu- »* 
trye himself as he prepared to com- . 
mit nearly one-third of the United " 
States Army against a powerful ".- 
desert ruler. "^ 

In the case of James Buchanan, the; «■* 
affliction was not Graves' disease but Z~ 
a debilitating gastrointestinal coach- \., 
tion, probably paratyphoid fever. The: •>* 
source was most likely contaminated 
water at the National Hotel, a few 
blocks from the White House, where * 
President-elect Buchanan stayed be- . « 
fore inauguration. 

For Buchanan — then nearly 66, 
but not as fit as President Bush at the 
same age — the result was devastat- 
ing, and he was nearly unable to 
attend his own inauguration on 
March 4, 1857. 

During the opening weeks of his 
Administration, Buchanan struggled - 
to regain his health while making a 
series of major but catastrophic deci- 
sions: his reaction to the Supreme ' - 
Court's ruling in the Dred Scott case; 
his handling of civil upheaval in the 
Kansas Territory, and his suppres- 
sion of a perceived Mormon rebellion 
in the neighboring Utah Territory. In 
the Utah episode, Federal troops 
were committed by May 1857 in what 
grew into a disastrous two-brigade, 
10-regiment affair that was the na- 
tion's most extensive and expensive 
military undertaking between the 
Mexican and Civil wars. 

Clearly, President Bush's fitness 
and medical care are much superior 
to those of his predecessors. Let us 
hope as well that Washington's water 
supply — notoriously unappealing for 
generations — is also up to the chal- 
lenge. William P. MacKinnon 
Birmingham, Mich., June 11, 1991 
The writer is an organizer of a confer- 
ence at Franklin & Marshall and 
Dickinson colleges on Buchanan.